Sunday, 3 January 2016


I am easing myself gently into the new year. Computer problems continue, it turns out to be the motherboard so more serious than we'd hoped. Luckily my son was able to remove the hard drive and to back everything up onto an external drive. Phew!!  Apart from the relief of knowing everything is safe it also means my photos are  accessible again. So much has been on hold or compromised these past months. A new computer has been ordered and should be delivered tomorrow.I hope my computer problems will be left in the past.

So while I could leap in with posts I'd planned, a cold is leaving me muzzy headed and no energy. One of the things I needed my photos and computer for was a Photobox book. I took over 4,000 photos when I was in the Shetland Isles and decided this was the best way to show them. I mention this for a reason. Because among my collection of photos are lots to do with knitting. Interestingly the idea of 'Knit and Natter' posts started without a plan. I joined a local group of ladies in order to get out and meet new people and it coincided with me being given some vintage knitting patterns. The idea of a post was born but I didn't forsee this developing into series of posts. Especially when I was in Shetland, the home of Fair Isle knitting. Luckily then that I took photos!

When my friend suggested a visit to Fair Isle, saying there is little there, I agreed because the idea of flying to this small island for afew days sounded appealing. It turned out to be one of my highlights and a magical experience. 

During our stay we visited the home and studio of Hollie Shaw.  

Originally from Kent, Hollie moved to Fair Isle with her husband in 1999 as wardens of the Bird Observatory. As well as being an international centre for bird observation it also runs as a guesthouse, and this is where we stayed. The building and land it stands on is run by  a charity, but the rest of the island and 
properties are owned by the  National Trust for Scotland. They ask a peppercorn because making a living is hard in such an exposed climate and a resident population of about 60. The internet has proved a life line, because now Hollie has an online shop as well as selling her knitware to cruise ships that occasionally visit the island.  All her wool comes from her own and island sheep and much thought is given to using local resources such as dying and spinning. 

Fair Isle is a traditional style of knitting, handed down through generations. Hollie has learnt the skill from another islander and each person develops their own patterns, unique to them. I was initially disappointed to learn that Hollie, with others who knit commercially, uses a machine. But let's be real here, these patterns are complex and time consuming to knit by hand. If a true cost was put on time and skill, who would pay for that? There might be an elite niche at top end markets but these are few and far between, and nearly all islanders hold down several jobs to earn a living.

But don't be mistaken. Machine knitting is a skill in itself because Hollie creates her own designs, so she then has to transfer these onto a paper pattern. She has to think about colour change and matching, tension, pattern repeat. No. My initial disappointment of using knitting machines changed into admiration and respect. 

The view from Hollie's studio window.


As idealic as it looks, island life isn't easy. But everyone we met and spoke to loves it there. And I can see why. Extreme weather apart. When 2 crofts became available for rent the National Trust for Scotland were inundated by enquiries. The newspaper article tells how American's were among those who wanted to move to Fair Isle. And we got to meet one of them, Tommy Hyndman. See his Fair Isle hat? This one was hand knitted by one of the islanders. He told us he has a large collection.

This photo was taken at the top of the lighthouse. Ruth and I were lucky enough to be given access and a private tour by Tommy. The views were spectacular. He told us the scene can look much more dramatic and about a video he made where he had played golf during a storm.

We learnt that last winter extreme weather meant supplies could not reach Fair Isle for 6 weeks. Luckily islanders are resourceful and used to unpredictability. They keep stocks of food, for such times. 
It seems a world a part from my cosy life. 

And in his own home Tommy has his own artist studio and has created some beautiful touches using Fair Isle knitting.

It is lovely to see tradition crafts being used in so many different ways. Anyone who watched the recent tv series about Scottish islands may have seen Tommy. He is quite a character! Like all the islanders he made us very welcome. One day I hope to go back. 
I promised posts about my trip to the Shetlands and now that my computer promblems are nearly sorted more will be on the way. I look forward to armchair travel and sharing more memories.  I hope you will join me, thanks for popping by!

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